By Suzy Kridner
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- There won't be calliope music coming from the Delta Queen steamboat on the Indian River here.
Wayne Heller, owner of the Riverview Hotel and Spa in New Smyrna Beach, said last week, "It's the end of the year and the end of the story."
Mr. Heller and his wife, Judy, had been working for several years on his dream of bringing the Delta Queen, an 88-room floating hotel built in 1927, here from Chattanooga, Tenn.
With the steamboat he also hoped to bring 100 jobs and provide a shuttle service for his customers and the public from the North Causeway to the Flagler Avenue and Canal Street shopping districts.
The North Causeway site was the former home of the Marine Discovery Center and the city's administrative office building.
The boat would attract tourists in addition to hotel guests, Mr. Heller said earlier.
He submitted petitions with 420 names of supporters in April. Several Flagler Avenue restaurant owners also supported the project, including Shelly Pestine of Peanuts Bar and Restaurant, and Steve Williams of Heavenly Café.
The New Smyrna Beach City Commission voted 3-2 in September to instruct city staff to proceed with lease negotiations with Mr. Heller for the site.
Mr. Heller's strongest supporter, City Commissioner, James Hathaway, had said earlier Mr. Heller "has shown he's willing to bend over backwards to work with us."
If we don't do something, Mr. Hathaway said, the property will sit vacant another couple of years.
Mr. Hathaway later did not run for re-election and instead mounted an unsuccessful bid for Volusia County Commissioner.
Mr. Heller said agreeing on a lease and its approval by city officials, and also getting permits from state and federal regulatory agencies would take months.
His Request for Proposal to lease the site was the only one submitted to the city.
After two meetings recently with city staff including City Manager Pam Brangaccio and City Attorney Frank Gummey, Mr. Heller said, "I was naïve to think the second meeting was to begin negotiations on a lease to dock the steamboat as a floating hotel."
It's been choppy waters for Mr. Heller's dream of owning the boat and docking it here, not far down the Indian River from the Riverview Hotel.
When he first asked the city about moving the steamboat here from Chattanooga, he was told he needed to submit a Request for Proposal to lease the city's AOB property on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Mr. Heller and his attorney spoke at several City Commission meetings and supporters also spoke in favor of the tourist attraction and the jobs it would bring.
Mr. Heller said it cost him $300,000 to $400,000 in expenses for the failed project, but in the end, his wife encouraged him to disengage himself from the Delta Queen.
"When the City Commission voted for the RFP on Sept. 11, going through the process was very expensive for me."
But he submitted a proposal, he said, even though he felt city staff had their minds made up long before the RFP and "this was just a game to eliminate me."
"I played the game because I didn't know any better."
"I could have used the money for improvements to the hotel and spa. I wasted a lot of money and a lot of people's time."
The two parties couldn't agree on the length of the lease.
"The City Manager wanted a three to five year lease and a huge amount of tax dollars," Mr. Heller said.
City Manager Pam Brangaccio said in an e-mail sent to The Hometown News that the request for a short-term lease was "in keeping with the city's language in the RFP for respondents. "
"Short-term is better for all, as Mr. Heller stated in his responses, 'we believe it will take a minimum of 3-5 years to fully evaluate the lasting impacts on the local lodging market of the Delta Queen.' Why would the city want to have a long-term lease for unknown market venue, tying up a valuable piece of waterfront property long-term?" she asked.
"We are now talking about expanding the Brannon Center to accommodate larger numbers of users (for meetings/special events), which was the idea behind a small conference center hotel," the city manager said.
Mr. Heller said, "We have a good city. I don't want to ruin my image of New Smyrna Beach. I love the city and love the people."
He's moved on to renovating the Riverview Hotel, without any CRA funds, he said.
Updates include new beds, carpeting, wallpaper, and 45-inch TVs.
"Our idea is to take the hotel back to 1885, but take advantage of modern technology," he said.
"The Delta Queen was my dream for several years and sometimes you have to step back and realize it was impossible to get done."